Breaking Bad: Matt Ridley Exits Wall Street Journal Column As A Climate Science Denier Of the Third Kind

A climate science denier of the first kind simply denies basic climate science, that, say the Earth is warming or that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Given that both of those are basically “settled facts,” according to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, we tend to see fewer and fewer of the CSD1s, in part because the media doesn’t take them terribly seriously. Only very famous CSD1s, like Sen. Jim Inhofe, get much press these days.

Climate science deniers of the second kind say that they accept basic climate science — so they aren’t ignored by the media — but then just assert that it isn’t going to be a big deal. They usually latch on to some tiny subset of the recent literature to make this argument. You have to cherry pick your science very carefully to be a CSD2 since as 2010 research presented at the AAAS presentation “concluded“: New scientific findings since the 2007 IPCC report are found to be more than twenty times as likely to indicate that global climate disruption is “worse than previously expected,” rather than “not as bad as previously expected.”

And, of course, you have to ignore the fact that if the world actually keeps listening to CSD2s and taking no serious action to reduce carbon pollution, then worst-case scenarios are all but unavoidable (see here). I would call Bjorn Lomborg the prototypical CSD2, except that he changes his position so often it’s hard to know what he really believes now.

A climate science denier of the third kind is the rarest of all. A CSD3 says that they accept basic climate science but then starts making arguments that effectively deny that science. Indeed a CSD3 who is rhetorically clever often says he or she used to believe in climate science, but then supposedly looked into the matter closely and was shocked, shocked to learn that they had been misled. The late Michael Crichton comes to mind.

It seemed that Matt Ridley was a CSD2 based on his December Wall Street Journal piece (see Leading Scientists Debunk Ridley Piece, Even Climatologist Cited By Ridley Says He “Is Just Plain Wrong About Future Warming”).

But now in his farewell “Mind & Matter” (!!) column, he proves to be a CSD3. I can’t in good conscience waste valuable time debunking this nonsense when I could be doing something far more productive, for instance, continuing my July 4th binge-watching of “Breaking Bad” in a desperate effort to get myself up to date for the final episodes in August.

But fortunately, the great science blogger Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy has already done an awesome job. Hmm, if Walter White had a Wall Street Journal column, would it be called Bad Chemistry? I digress.

Anyway, Ridley runs the classic CSD3 scam in his article:

A decade ago, I was persuaded by two pieces of data to drop my skepticism and accept that dangerous climate change was likely. The first, based on the Vostok ice core, was a graph showing carbon dioxide and temperature varying in lock step over the last half million years. The second, the famous “hockey stick” graph, showed recent temperatures shooting up faster and higher than at any time in the past millennium.

Within a few years, however, I discovered that the first of these graphs told the opposite story from what I had inferred. In the ice cores, it is now clear that temperature drives changes in the level of carbon dioxide, not vice versa.

As for the “hockey stick” graph, it was effectively critiqued by Steven McIntyre, a Canadian businessman with a mathematical interest in climatology….

Yes, he went there. He’s essentially accusing climate scientists and the National Academy of Science of being filled with scientists who are all breaking bad.

I’ll just quote Plait at length:

Folks, let me give you a very useful piece of advice: When you hear a claim that goes against the consensus opinion of climate scientists, type that claim into Google followed by the words “skeptical science”. Because the website Skeptical Science is very thorough, and it rebuts both claims by Ridley.

First, it’s true that in the distant past (hundreds of thousands of years ago) a rise in carbon dioxide sometimes did follow a rise in temperature. As Skeptical Science points out, that’s to be expected: If the temperature goes up (which can have a number of initial causes), a lot of CO2 locked up in the oceans gets released. However, this does not mean carbon dioxide doesn’t cause warming; in fact we know an increase in CO2 causes an increase in temperature. That in turn increases the amount of CO2 released from the oceans, further increasing temperature. This is called a positive feedback loop. Happily, in general, positive feedback loops like this tend to flatten out, preventing the heat from cranking up past the point where temperatures become unstable.

Mind you, as Skeptical Science again points out, in the past most of the increase in temperature did in fact happen after an increase of atmospheric CO2. Some initial trigger caused temperatures to go up a little bit, but then the increased CO2 drove a much larger increase in temperature. Ridley is simply wrong here, and the debunking is quite easy to find online.

Still, Ridely claims that “In the ice cores, it is now clear that temperature drives changes in the level of carbon dioxide, not vice versa.” I’m puzzled by this; is he saying CO2 does not cause increased temperature in modern times? He never comes out and says this (except with that one sentence, and with the caveat “in the ice cores”), but he implies it pretty strongly. But that contradicts his stated stance that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and humans are at least partly responsible for global warming. His position on this appears to be untenable.


And as Plait adds, “His second claim is just as wrong,” but you can read that here. I have to go back to doing something useful — I’m only in the middle of Season 2….

Related Posts:

  • The Hockey Stick Lives: New Study Confirms Unprecedented Recent Warming Reverses 2,000 Years Of Cooling
  • NOAA (2013) ‘Robust, Unambiguous’ Independent Evidence Confirms The Recent Global Warming Measured By Thermometers.

27 Responses to Breaking Bad: Matt Ridley Exits Wall Street Journal Column As A Climate Science Denier Of the Third Kind

  1. caerbannog says:

    Since McIntyre is once again being trotted out, I figure that I should post this “as plain-English as possible” description of how McIntyre screwed up in one of his attacks against Mann’s hockey-stick.

    One of McIntyre’s favorite claims about Mann’s hockey stick — the “Mann’s method generates hockey-sticks from random noise” claim — is based on multiple screwups.

    Here’s a description of “screwup #1” in plain-English (with just a little bit of technical jargon tossed in).

    McIntyre claim: Mann’s PCA (Principal Component Analysis) centering convention caused his processing to generate hockey sticks from random noise.

    To “prove” this, what McIntyre did was to implement a noise model that was “trained” with real tree-ring data so that it would produce random noise with statistical properties similar to real “tree-ring data” noise.

    OK, so that was the plan, and a good one if you execute it properly.

    But McIntyre didn’t execute it properly — he forgot to do one critically important thing.

    He forgot to detrend the tree-ring data first (to remove the long-term “hockey-stick” global warming signal from the data) before using that data as a “template” for his synthetic random noise.

    As a result, McIntyre’s “random noise” was contaminated with hockey-stick signal statistics!

    Dudes — if you are going to use a noise model that you have generated by using real data as a “template”, you have to remove the signal from the real data first!

    Otherwise, you aren’t going to end up with a valid noise model; you will end up with a mish-mashed “signal+noise model” instead.

    A noise-model that is contaminated with signal is useless for evaluating the noise-only behavior of a system! That should be obvious (although apparently, it isn’t to a lot of “skeptics”).

    This was a basic “Time-Series Analysis 101” screwup on McIntyre’s part. It is the sort of blunder that Mann would ding his undergraduate students for.

    And yet this embarrassing screwup formed the basis of one of the most persistent right-wing attacks against Mann.

    (Warning — some technical jargon below)

    And no, you don’t need to take my word for this — Google up McIntyre’s “R” code and see for yourself. Look at what he does (or doesn’t do) with the tree-ring data between where he reads it in and where he computes the noise autocorrelation functions.

    There are other show-stopper problems with McIntyre’s claim (namely that he “cherry picked” a small number of hockey-stick results out of many thousands of attempts), but the above “signal contamination” problem alone is enough to invalidate McIntyre’s claim that Mann’s method produces hockey-sticks from random noise.

  2. SecularAnimist says:

    You left out the type of denier that is now the most common of all: the one who denies that it is possible to do anything about global warming without destroying the economy, and claims that even “draconian” measures that would condemn humanity to poverty and misery would not be enough.

    Remember, outright denial of the problem is not an end in itself. It is merely a tactic.

    The actual goal is simply to perpetuate business-as-usual consumption of fossil fuels (and the resulting trillions of dollars in profit) for as long as possible, by obstructing and delaying their replacement with alternative, non-carbon energy sources.

    When denial of the reality of the problem becomes untenable, and no longer effectively serves that purpose, there are other tactics to delay and obstruct action. And portraying the solutions as inferior, costly, cruel, and otherwise unacceptable, and at the same time probably ineffective — in short, preaching defeatism — has been shown to discourage public support for taking the necessary action.

    Defeatism is the new denial.

  3. Superman1 says:

    You omitted denial of the fourth kind: denying the seriousness of the problem and the level of sacrifice required to ameliorate the problem. In this game, partial solutions are non-solutions.

  4. For real science on the reasons why climate change is now behind all the wacky weather, perfectly well-presented in the clearest of terms, see this ABC Australia world-class video:

    See it if your science-literate, encourage the less literate amongst your family, friends and colleagues, to view it….

    Mark Kowal

  5. Jamie Ross says:

    CSD5 – those people who say “it’s too late for us to do anything.”

  6. BillD says:

    Well, I guess that it’s good that he’s gone. For my part, I really get even investment “news” from the WSJ and only read about their science and environment news in this blog. One can only help that some business types recognize that WSJ is basically BS on news and opinion about climate.

  7. Jeff Huggins says:

    Joe, Will You Please Take A Cut At This: Defining Different Types of “CPs”?

    It would be great — and in many ways much more productive — to define the several different types of “CPs” — that is, Climate Politicians. There are CP1s and CP2s and perhaps CP3s, but the number of macro categories is small enough to take the time to identify them. And, the task would be highly productive because we could begin to better understand not only President Obama (there would have to be a category of which he is the prototypical example) but also — and more importantly — Hillary Clinton and other potential would-be Democratic nominees for president.

    Indeed, we really ought to shift the balance a bit, I should think, to focus much more on the people we can actually have something to do with. In other words, because we will face the choice of whether to support and vote for (for example) Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination and then the general election, and because we (as individual persons) will carry the responsibility for placing her in the White House if we nominate and elect her, and thus we will share the responsibility for what she does (or doesn’t) do to address climate change during the crucial years of 2017 to 2021, and perhaps beyond, it follows (obviously) that we ought to want to understand her positions and commitments with respect to climate change in clear and concrete terms and ASAP.

    So, some questions are, what are the various types of Climate Politicians: CP1, CP2, CP3, and perhaps CP4 and etc.? How should we characterize each type? Based on what we know so far — what we have seen demonstrated, not what we would like to believe — what type of Climate Politician is President Obama? And more importantly at this point, what type is Hillary Clinton?

    That might be a very good starting exercise, to help us begin to take our own responsibilities seriously and begin to set the stage to live up to them (when we have to decide who to support for the nomination).




  8. Brian Smith says:

    You omitted denial of the fifth kind: denying the seriousness of the reality that there is no all-encompassing solution, and the level of humility required to climb down from the armchair self-anointed omniscience to face the harder work of positively supporting some of those pesky “partial” solutions. In this game, non-solutions don’t exist for serious people.

  9. Paul Vincelli says:

    Some science-based conservative perspectives on climate change and its solutions.

  10. Brian Smith says:

    “So, some questions are, what are the various types of Climate Politicians: CP1, CP2, CP3, and perhaps CP4 and etc.? How should we characterize each type? Based on what we know so far — “, etc, etc.

    Instead of perpetually asking Joe Romm to do the analysis and legwork for you, how about (“based on what (you) know so far”) writing your own letters, making your own contacts with the Hillary people and reporting back? My Goodness! Be the change you are demanding.

  11. Joe Romm says:


  12. Superman1 says:

    “positively supporting some of those pesky “partial” solutions”. If a partial solution takes me over the cliff, why in the world would I want to support it? A softer defeat is still a defeat; what’s wrong with aiming for victory?

  13. Superman1 says:

    This shows that anything is possible; I agree with Brian’s response. Raise these questions not only with Hillary, but your local candidates as well. Whether or not you get the answers you want, there should be some valuable lessons in the experience, lessons upon which we can build!

  14. Joan Savage says:

    A CSD3-type item that is going the blog rounds is a bizarro interpretation of a NASA press release on a solar storm, a press release which loosely called CO2 a coolant.

    From that press release, many blogs have claimed that new ‘research’ from NASA has disproved global warming. NASA didn’t say anything like that in the press release. NASA reported the role of carbon dioxide and other gases in deflecting 95% of a solar storm back to outer space.

    I could chide NASA for careless generality, as calling CO2 a coolant is as awkward as calling an umbrella a dryer.

    However, even WUWT has debunked the misunderstanding, which should give a clue.

  15. Brian Smith says:

    “Anything is possible.” Doesn’t sound like our old Superman, but what a welcome change.

  16. SecularAnimist says:

    By the way, Joe, I hope you are enjoying your binge-watching of “Breaking Bad” on a solar-powered, ultra-efficient LED TV.

  17. Jeff Huggins says:

    Brian, you are forgetting some things (actually, you don’t know them), and you are missing an entire point.

    What are you forgetting, or rather, what don’t you know when you offer a critique like that (above)? It’s this: you don’t know all the things I am doing (to help move the needle on the climate movement) aside from my posts here. I’m not about to list them here, but they are (and have been) a lot (although never enough, admittedly).

    And the point you are apparently missing is this: CP especially, but also CAP, have as a stated aim to have a major progressive impact on climate change — to genuinely and substantially help move the needle to address climate change, through progressive information and politics. That’s a central mission. That’s a full-time (and paid) gig. They are in the beltway. They have large public platforms. And they have immensely close relationships with the Hillary Clintons and Bill Clintons and etc. etc. of the world.

    And indeed, Joe has been (correctly) criticizing President Obama these past five years for not showing nearly enough leadership on climate change.

    Thus, for these reasons and others, (and I shouldn’t have to repeat the whole argument from earlier posts, as I assume you’ve read many), it only makes sense for Joe, CP, CAP, and also the leading climate movement organizations and environmental organizations to do whatever they can, to show leadership themselves, to make darn sure that the person the progressives/Democrats nominate for president the next time around is a person who will be committed to the task and up to it. Period. It only makes sense for them to do so, and it doesn’t make sense (nor is it responsible) for them not to do so.

    (When I use the phraseology that “it only makes sense for them to do so”, I don’t mean that it doesn’t make sense for others to also try to do so; I mean that it doesn’t make sense for them — CP, CAP, etc. — not to do so.)

    Thus — and I’m sorry to sound so critical here — rather than critiquing something that assumes something that you don’t have the opportunity to be aware of (that is, the other things I AM doing), it might help if you would join in to urge Joe, CP, and CAP to begin vetting Hillary Clinton and other would-be nominees for the Democratic nomination BEFORE people assume (as many people already are, including Joe it seems!) that Hillary is already The One, like it or not.

    I’m not complaining here about “nothing”, nor am I telling people why their ideas will not work. (Indeed, at this point I think it just about amounts to complaining about “nothing” to sit here and complain about folks and organizations who will probably always be deniers whether we complain about them or not. In other words, that’s not very productive. Instead, let’s consider our own wanna-be leaders and what we can do to make sure we pick the right ones! Doesn’t that seem like a better use of time?) So instead, I’m urging specific people who are in a position to show leadership on a certain matter, and who ought to do so, to do just that; and that is (one of) my ways of showing leadership and trying to get people to do what they ought to do.

    Now, IF YOU think that CP and CAP ought to simply assume and expect that Hillary is The One, and thus not bother vetting her regarding her positions on and commitment to climate change, and thus simply be content to support her (by default at this point), just let us know here. Please. Otherwise, if you think that’s not such a good idea — and if you think that we ought to do much better than that — then why not join in to urge CP and CAP to take actions aimed at making sure that we nominate and elect someone who is committed to and up to the task. That could be Hillary or it could be someone else. We don’t know yet! We haven’t seriously vetted anyone! And that’s the point.

    I hope this makes sense.



  18. Merrelyn Emery says:

    CSD4.5 – adapt not mitigate, ME

  19. Brian Smith says:

    You could cruise the net for statements.

    Hillary Clinton On Climate Change, Poaching: ‘We Are In A Race Against Time’ a recent piece in HufPost with Harrison Ford leading the talk at the Conservation International “Gala dinner”. Informative. (The video rolls to next segments if you leave it alone.) Better yet, full video here:

    Another…”Returning from a tour of the Arctic coastline aboard a Norwegian research trawler with scientists and government officials, Clinton told reporters that she learned “many of the predictions about warming in the Arctic are being surpassed by the actual data.”” (a year ago)

    Search for “hillary clinton climate chanege videos” on Bing, for a tidy page of statements from at least 2007.

  20. Brian Smith says:

    Jeff. First, my opinion of your crusade to have others vet HRC as a climate candidate has nothing whatever to do with whatever else you are doing. It is, as you’ve made it, a stand alone proposition. And I haven’t missed your point, I just think the process you want is not warranted. I am “critiquing something that assumes something that (I) don’t have the opportunity to be aware of”? No, I just disagree on the merits, sorry.

    Second, you don’t appear to have done much research, which is expected of anyone contributing to an issue. In this case: Is HRC a climate savvy & worthy candidate? There is a lot of evidence that suggests she is, and a lot of corroboration from her peers, but you don’t venture your own opinion. You don’t have one?

    Third, your whole argument rests (and has from the beginning) on assumptions that you have no evidence for. For example that the people you defer to, Joe, et al, are by default irresponsible if they do not respond to your comments, made very indirectly – in a blog; that unless they say otherwise, here in this blog, they must not care about what HRC thinks & have accepted she is The One.

    In the real world you have to approach people individually and with humility if you really want their interest and their opinions. It’s usually not a plus to lead, very publicly, with negative assumptions about who they are as this can be taken as naive or insulting or both.

    Blog comment space is great for test driving concepts but not so good for getting commitments to them or creating a task force of agreeable readers. Herding cats comes to mind. I’ve learned this myself, here, regarding solutions I am passionate about. I’m glad I said my piece and got some feedback. The rest is up to me and happens elsewhere.

  21. Jeff Huggins says:

    Brian, I disagree but think it’s probably best that we leave it at that, unless you have an answer to the question I asked earlier. Note that you have not answered the direct question I asked, which is (in one version) Do YOU think that leaders of the climate movement — particularly those that have to do with both the science and politics involved — should lead the way, or at least help lead it, to make sure we vet would-be nominees before we nominate them, and to make sure we understand someone’s position (in clear and concrete terms) and demonstrated commitment with respect to climate change before we vote for them and elect them? It’s a simple and clear question. You haven’t answered it. If you say ‘yes’, that is what I am asking and searching for, and if you say ‘yes’, you agree with me on the central issue of all these comments from my standpoint. If you say ‘no’, on the other hand, I respectfully disagree with you, and your answer will speak for itself. But you haven’t answered yet.

    As you know, the last concrete action Hillary Clinton took with respect to climate change, is that the State Department she led gave a very favorable (and flawed) assessment of Keystone XL. I won’t go beyond that, at this point, other than to suggest that your idea (implied in your comment) that Hillary’s record indicates that she would be a fine leader to address climate change is debatable, to say the least. But my point here is not, and has not been, to offer my own view on assessing her. Instead, it’s to say that we should all do our best TO assess her — and to vet (in a serious, proactive, and credible way) all would-be Democratic nominees for president. I find it rather amazing that you would disagree with that point, or that you would disagree with the point that folks and organizations such as CP/CAP,, the Sierra Club, and other similar organizations should lead the way to make sure we vet them well.

    The persistence of my comments, and now questions (to you) given that you’ve commented, is because I do, strongly, think that CP and CAP will be dropping a crucial ball in their self-stated mission — the mission implied by the name ‘Climate Progress’ and also implied by all their (other) work to encourage society to address climate change — if they simply defer to “expectations” that Hillary Clinton will be nominated and elected, and thus if they don’t do what they can to vet all would-be nominees, including her, with respect to climate change, to the end of making sure we nominate and elect the best person possible.

    Alas, my persistence here and now, in response to your most recent comment, would not be necessary at all (to defend my point) if you had simply answered that clear question in your first comment. I’m not looking for an endless and pointless debate — we both have better things to do — so if you can answer that specific and clear question, please do, or else let’s just leave it at that.

    (You can expect me to continue to ask CP and CAP to do their best to vet all would-be Democratic nominees for president — and I believe it is obvious that they should do so, as part of their stated and implied missions — so I’ll understand it if you choose not to read those comments, and we can both save time if you don’t comment on them. I’ll understand it on a standing basis that you don’t agree with the idea and don’t like the comments.)

    If you have an answer to the question I ask, ‘yes’ or ‘no’, that would be helpful.



  22. Brian Smith says:

    Sure, of course Hillary’s intentions are debatable, and we can expect lots of vetting of her record and her statements in the coming months –as with other candidates– from the media, from Joe, and all the concerned organizations. Everybody already gets it that the next president needs to be five times as realistic and proactive as Obama. The truth will out and we will vote for the lesser of evils from a lineup that’s limited by electability as defined by many issues other than just climate.

    So no, I don’t object to your sincere motives and yes I want to nail down the candidates as much as anyone, especially congressional hopefuls. But why do you suppose our CP editor in chief hasn’t embraced your cause and gushed approval as you’d like?

    I can’t presume to know, but my own thought is that, beyond its unfriendly authoritative tone, it’s vague at best. What do YOU mean by “vet”? What do you you want them to actually do? Make inquiries? Get her to sign a pledge? Somehow use their supposed direct influence to pressure her campaign? Get dirty if she doesn’t commit to exact policies? Treat her with suspicion in line with your personal judgement? ..”vet them well.”. What does that mean exactly?
    Anyway, go for it if you must. I have nothing more to add.

  23. Brian Smith says:

    Except for this, which got lost in moderation earlier but perhaps will show now:

    You could cruise the net for statements.

    Hillary Clinton On Climate Change, Poaching: ‘We Are In A Race Against Time’ a recent piece in HufPost with Harrison Ford leading the talk at the Conservation International “Gala dinner”. Informative. (The video rolls to next segments if you leave it alone.) Better yet, full video here:

    Another…”Returning from a tour of the Arctic coastline aboard a Norwegian research trawler with scientists and government officials, Clinton told reporters that she learned “many of the predictions about warming in the Arctic are being surpassed by the actual data.”” (a year ago)

    Search for “hillary clinton climate chanege videos” on Bing, for a tidy page of statements from at least 2007.

  24. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Ridley is a rich boy, who, like many rich boys, found the religious diktat of Market Fundamentalist aka neo-liberal capitalism alluring, almost certainly because it so massively favours and enriches the wealthy few (Ridley’s caste) at the expense of everybody else. Ridley became quite fanatical, and, in my opinion, arrogant in his promulgation of Market Fundamentalism’s inerrancy and perfection, even after its manifest and multiform failures to deliver. Naturally, that made him a favourite of the Rightwing MSM propaganda system. Of course for a Rightwing libertarian, chutzpah is a indispensable character trait. Unfortunately, chutzpah can breed hubris, and Ridley put his great mind to work toiling in the fields of financial foot-paddery, attempting to turn Northern Rock Bank into a new Goldman Sachs, and thus making Ridley and his Merry Men even richer than before. Alas, Nemesis arrived, and the great Riddles started the first bank run in England for generations. Even more ghastly, the beastly state had to intervene to save Riddle’s bacon. I say-it was just not cricket.
    Still, in a real testament to his character, the disaster did not stop Riddles for a second. No time for reflection, that being for chavs and other losers. So Riddles went straight back to his old hobby, peddling climate disinformation and libertarian, cornutopian, Rightwing agit-prop. Whether this is because Riddles is really clever, but, shall we say, somewhat unscrupulous, or simply as thick as a brick, who really cares? These creatures ought to be ignored-for now.

  25. Superman1 says:

    Jeff, there may be value in CP posting an interview on climate change with one politician each month. Who accepts and who rejects such an interview would contain value in its own right. There would also be value in posting interviews with the likes of Kevin Anderson, Tim Garrett, McPherson, et al, so we see a fuller picture.

  26. Christopher S. Johnson says:

    The article mentions, “Some initial trigger” in the large temp changes we see in the ice cores, which create ice ages and interglacials. Let’s just start saying it and educating the public. It’s the Milankovitch Cycles. Orbital anomalies. THEN CO2 is brought on by the oribital warm up, and THEN the CO2 acts like compound interest on a credit card, accelerating everything.

    This is explained in great fashion by Dr. Richard Alley at an AGU conference.

  27. FrankD says:

    Christopher, while there is no doubt that Milankovitch cycles are the initial triggers for the big changes seen in the ice core record, they are not the only possible triggers. Sustained changes in solar activity, changes in ocean currents etc can also be triggers, although usually triggering smaller variations.

    Skeptical Science’s explanation addresses the general case, rather than the specific. An explanation only referring to Milankovitch cycles can fall foul of exceptions cherry-picked by CSD3’s to insert confusion.